The mockingbird is a drab brownish grey bird with a distinctive long
squared off tail, and white stripes under its wings and tail. It can
be found mostly in the southeast United States
but has been seen as far north and west as Oregon
. The mockingbird is
the state bird
. Obviously, the bird is well loved by residents of these
states, probably for both its song
and for its diet
A single mockingbird's song can fool novice listeners into thinking
there are many different species of birds sitting in a tree singing,
but it can be easily distinguished as a mockingbird because the timing
between calls of the same species is frequently compressed, and by the
rapid stringing of different species bird calls one after the other.
The mockingbird does not restrict its song to copying other birds;
some birds invent their own embellishments, adding trills, scales,
single notes, buzzes, whirbles, and merging mangled
parts of calls from different birds into a single call. Also, it will
frequently copy not just local birds, but also birds that live in
other areas it has traveled, night birds (if it sings in the day, or
day birds if it sings at night), owls, frogs, crickets, dog barks,
etc. If you see a mockingbird sing, you may also notice that its song
includes hops, flips, and wing flashes and other acrobatics that it
will repeat when it repeats a part of the song. (Some sources say
they are catching bugs; this may also be true, but does not explain why they repeat the motions.)
Mockingbirds generally sing in the early morning or early evening, but
do occasionally sing all day, and sometimes even all night. (One that
lives near me likes to start at midnight and sing until 3 or 4am.)
The birds use their song to help mark their feeding territory and
perhaps also attract mates.
While the mockingbird will not typically eat bird seed or peanuts from
feeders, it still integrates well into suburbia, eating bugs and
worms in lawns and gardens as well as occasional berries, and
frequenting whatever water source is available. The bird
is bold and generally unafraid of people. I saw a bird that would get
close enough to follow behind a lawn mower to prey on anything turned up.
Mocking birds are notorious for
defending their nest.
Both parents take care of the nest, and will dive bomb
anything that they feel threatens the nest or their offspring,
including owls, people, dogs, cats, whatever gets close enough. I
have on occasion seen four or five mocking birds chasing away a crow or great
horned owl or hawk or some other bird many times their size.
Mockingbird babies (unlike their parents) make a distinctive
harsh high pitched screech that is louder than any other bird baby
I've heard. The baby leaves the nest early, long before it can fly, and
will wander around somewhat aimlessly as the parents follow it and feed it.
During this period, the parents become especially protective. If a predator
approaches, one parent will act injured and try to decoy the predator
away, while the other parent positions itself between the
predator and the baby, preparing to dive bomb if necessary. The decoy bird
frequently will do a back flip, opening its wings to flash the white
patches at the predator, in an attempt to get its attention.
Whatever the mockingbird lacks in bright pretty plumage, it makes up for
in its song, diet, and graceful motion.
sources: mostly personal observation, with
some minor confirmation from multiple sources